Beat the Summer Heat!
by Douglas Morrison
One of the coolest spots you could visit this summer is the Kawabe River district in Kumamoto. Few places could soothe a weary soul better than this pristine district, with its bird-filled forests and crystal-clear cascades. Outdoors expert Doug offers a lowdown on the exquisite area in threat of being flooded by a controversial dam project.
I’ve really enjoyed hitting the beach in the last few months. Unfortunately with the ‘official’ arrival of summer, the number of beachgoers (and their accompanying trash) will get a bit unbearable for me. To escape the trash, sweltering heat and to avoid skin cancer, I’m sticking to cool forests at higher elevations. There are plenty of great picnic, swimming and hiking spots close to Fukuoka, but if you are interested in a little road trip, there’s an area I recommend you visit before it’s gone.
Most Japanese will instantly recognize the name Itsuki-mura because of the famous lullaby of the same name. However, for folks following the environmental scene, the name is more associated with a wasteful mega-project about to be built there: the Kawabe-gawa Dam (see next page). Getting to Itsuki-mura is a bit of a drive; from Fukuoka, the fastest way is probably via Hitoyoshi Interchange. The network of roads in the area can be confusing, and good maps are recommended. Complementing the beautiful scenery and the clear blue waters of Kawabe-gawa is its exceptional flora and fauna, and a number of points of interest for visitors. You can bask in expansive forests of red pine sprinkled with huge beech and fir trees, and even see deer while hiking as well as giant toads and endless varieties of birds and butterflies.
You don’t have to be a hardcore hiker to enjoy walking to waterfalls and picnic sites along the rivers and streams. But if you are up for a major hike or two, the 1,700 metre-plus mountains that constitute the border between Miyazaki and Kumamoto will allow you to really stretch your legs. Although a little off the beaten path they offer great views, unspoiled nature and spectacular ridgewalks. It’s impossible to see the whole area on a day trip but there are numerous established campgrounds, some at higher elevations guaranteeing cooler temperatures in the heat of summer. Don’t forget to leave time for at least one visit to the many hot springs around Hitoyoshi.
Damn it! Don’t Dam It!
by Doug Morrison
The Kawabe River dam project was first proposed in 1966. Its original aims were to provide flood control, hydro-electricity and irrigation. But with these no longer relevant, debate rages over whether the project should go ahead – ruining a beautiful area in the process. What do you think?
From what is written in the newspapers and on various websites (both official and NGO), we can glean some facts. Based on a 40-year-old plan, this 107.5-metre monolith will flood enough river valleys to create a 391-hectare reservoir and cost somewhere in the vicinity of 265 billion yen (or US$2.4 billion). There are two official reasons for justifying this mega-project. The first is to provide a water reserve for local farmers, and the second is to prevent flooding downstream. A trip to this lush, fertile area will soon clarify how ridiculous the plan is to provide irrigation. Further, like most rural areas in Japan, Itsuki-mura and the surrounding hamlets are suffering from depopulation and a drain of young people. Ironically, the project has forced a number of people to leave the area and scared off anyone thinking of moving there. While driving through and hiking in the area it’s clear that extensive timber harvesting, reforestation and road building have continued for decades. The natural forests have been scalped to shockingly high elevations on slopes so steep it’s amazing the replanted trees have survived at all. Add some torrential downpours to that situation, and it’s no wonder there was flooding in the past. Not only will the dam represent a colossal waste of public funds, but risk environmental damage that could wipe out unique flora and fauna as well as threaten the sweetfish populations in the Kuma River. I believe it is time to recognize this as yet another poorly thought out “make work” project. A fair distribution of wealth is needed in any healthy society, but these [former PM] Kakuei Tanaka-style mega-projects are not the way to do it.
To learn more about the Kawabe River dam project, visit this website: www2.kumagaku.ac.jp/teacher/～masden/kawabe.html.